Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And Now for a Word About Characters

So, my wife is currently waiting to have her traitorous galbladder removed. I am scamming the hospital wi-fi, trying to think of things to do to keep myself occupied, and not going batshit crazy with worst-case scenarios. It's a simple procedure, but I had the same thing done 3 years ago and they had to do it the old-fashioned way...with a chainsaw and a baseball bat, apparently.

But that's as it may be. I'll try to keep off that. I wanted to go into how I choose and develop characters a little bit, since this is a question I get with a fair amount of regularity IRL.

So, I've been playing various RPGs for a really long time. In fact, I remember the old West End Games Star Wars System. Loved it; roll far too many D6's for no good reason. Yeah, I'm getting grey, I know. I've played AD&D 2nd, Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, L5R, Rifts, Doctor Who, B5, WoT, V:TM, and so on. I go to GenCon every year, half to play the Legend of the Five Rings CCG, but half to see the weird new RPG tabletop experiments that are coming out. So I've got a fair amount of experience playing make-believe.

All those systems varied wildly from each other, for the most part. But the one thing that remained constant was the characters. Any RPG, no matter how poorly designed or executed, can be a really good time if you have interesting characters you like, care about, and enjoy playing. Conversely, the best-designed system in the world will fall absolutely flat if you don't give a damn about what happens to the main players (The Phantom Menace, anyone?).

That being the case, I go out of my way to build and play characters that are not just fun, but have history, personailty quirks, annoying habits, hopes, dreams, goals, character short, I try to make them as close to real people as I possibly can, because that makes for interesting dialogue and game play.

What do you do, for instance, when your main group of characters has been hired by the mob to do a smash-and-grab at a local jewlery store, which sounds fine, but one of the PC's uncles owns the store and actually was a huge influence in his or her life? Maybe got him or her into NYU through his connections with the geology department? Or if another of the PC's was busted for petty theft 6 months ago and has been turned into a narc to avoid prosecution. How does he react to this? Does he do the job on the down-low, or does he stoolie out and run to the cops? Or how about a third who is naturally conceited and can't helping bragging to a few of his buddies after the job, and is overheard by a friend of the jeweler's?

See? Good, rich characters can make something that seems pretty ordinary on the surface (listen to the bit about the sandwich) and make it, if not epic, then so much more realistic, deep, and fun.

The same rules translate over to WoW, as far as I am concerned. Arthas, Sylvanas, Varian Wynn, Tirion, Thrall...these are all fantastic characters with rich, meaningful storylines. To create characters that are any less than 3-dimensional then, to my way of thinking, is an affront to the people who imagined up this awesome world. Therefore, my three flagship characters, Kusamoto, Tsurii, and Katsuko, have been developed over the course of months, even years.

Kusamoto, in particular, has a rich history, as he is my L5R alterego. I've been playing that game so long, in fact, they folks at AEG decided to give in and make him, and I, a part of canon. It's a nod at my peserverance and in a really strange way gives him, and therefore me, a kind of immortality most people can only dream of, so I am immensely humbled by the honor Shawn Carman and company have done me. So, here's my alterego, Kusamoto, in the card game:

Naturally, who else could I have chosen to create for my flagship WoW character? Since I play horde almost exclusively, the racial choice wasn't much of one (Blood Elf was the only thing that came close) and class was similarly chosen for me (Pally, of course). So I roll him up along the same lines as my card game character, and here's what I come up with:

You can see the similarities in type, which is why I was immensely pleased at how he turned out in game, and was really looking forward to playing the hell out of him. Only one minor problem:

I didn't like him.

In fact, he sat on the shelf for about 4 months before I started grinding away at the Blood Elf starting quests, but I still wasn't having any fun with him (and I'm certain the reverse was true). I couldn't figure it out at all. Until one day, in SFK, I chose DPS or healer, got in as a healer, and realized my mistake.

THIS Kusamoto was NOT entirely "my" Kusamoto. He preferred healing over righteous fury, and more "white collar" pursuits, like Inscription and Herbalism, over the down-and-dirty professions like engineering or mining. While this originally came as quite a shock, it made perfect sense with the background I had in my head of a mid-level functionary's son forced into a role and profession he never really wanted. And now, he finds himself, by virtue of his skills in writing and oratory, as the political figurehead of an organization he is more than glad to let Katsuko run behind the scenes while playing straight man to a undead warrior.

Even though I had built the character along the same lines as my true alterego, he changed and grew before my eyes in surprising ways because of the same rules I follow when building characters, not in spite of them. It's frightening when that happens; when a character you have made, played, and were both mother and father to, suddenly matures into something you never expected. Frightening, but also very exciting. It means you've done your job in creating and raising him well, and now you are simply along for the ride.

So, this has been pretty wall-of-textish, but I hope I got my point across. WoW is, for all intents and purposes, a tabletop RPG in a lot of ways. Character creation and development is similar, and if you go out of your way to make interesting characters with breadth and depth, it will never get old, no matter what changes are made to the game, and you will always enjoy playing it.

OK, back to the really real world of waiting for my wife to be out of surgery. But let me ask everyone: Who is your favorite WoW character (NPC, your own, or someone else's) and why? I'd love to hear your opinion.

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